A month has passed since the Busan International Film Festival wrapped up and I’ve finally had to time to decompress and reflect on my film bonanza. I watched 21 films over 13 days (and held down a day job and blogged and worked part-time!), so needless to say, I had a lot of material to process and mull over. Of the 21 films I managed to catch, 15 were Korean films. Some are still preparing for release while others were released earlier this year, giving audiences something to ponder and something to look forward to! Here are five to look out for this year.
My Boy (마이보이)
Directed by Jeon Kyuhwan (전규환), 2013.
Cast: Lee Tae-ran (이태란), Cha In-pyo (차인표), Lee Seok-chul (이석철)
Running time: 99 min. Drama.
Far and away my favourite film from the festival, My Boy follows impulse disorder patient Icheon (Lee Seok-chul) as he attempts to deal with his younger brother’s illness. Icheon is a struggling teen living in a fantasy world where he is able to play with his younger brother instead of visiting him as he lays comatose in the hospital. Meanwhile, Icheon’s mother (Lee Tae-ran) fights to make ends meet as she cares for her two sick boys, paying the bills with help from her husband’s friend (Cha In-pyo). Eventually she must respond to the hospital’s repeated requests to donate her youngest son’s organs. This change prompts Icheon to take a trip with his brother’s wheelchair, an object which comes to represent the family’s inability to let go. Beautifully shot and heart-breaking to behold, My Boy culminates in a powerful final scene you won’t soon forget. Despite a few awkward appearances by film extras, the film is well-acted. Newcomer Lee Seok-chul makes a strong debut as Icheon, joining veterans Lee Tae-ran and Cha In-pyo, both of whom acted in the film pro-bono. Although not yet released in theatres, My Boy is one film worth waiting for.
Producer: Choi Mi Aei (최미애)
Screenplay: Jeon Kyu-hwan (전규환)
Cinematography: Kim Nam-kyun (김남균)
Production Company: Treefilm Co., Ltd.
The Stone (스톤)
Directed by Cho Se-rae (조세래), 2013.
Cast: Cho Dong-in (조동인), Kim Roi-ha (김뢰하), Park Wong-sang (박원상)
Running time: 113 min. Drama, Action.
Young Min-su (Cho Dong-in) is talented baduk player, but not quite good enough to play professionally despite his strong ambition. He hustles playing baduk (바둑, Go) to earn cash, befriending con artists, making enemies, and slowly immersing himself into the criminal underworld. Soon enough a local mob boss (Kim Roi-ha) challenges Min-su to a game, losing terribly and thus coercing Min-su to become his baduk teacher. With each passing game, the two exchange personal stories and grow closer, changing one’s another’s lives forever. The criminal life at first appears alluring for Min-su who has nowhere to turn due a complicated relationship with his gambling addict mother, but the gangster recognizes the young man’s dangerous path and together they begin to question and alter their poor life choices, much to the upset of a rival gang. The constant shuffling of the stones on the baduk board mimic the changing alliances of the local gangs, and the games themselves represent a calm retreat from a violent world. Unfortunately the film drags on a bit too long as it clocks in at over two hours long, and several unnecessary minor characters and subplots distract from the main storyline and protagonists’ character development. Altogether however, The Stone is an enjoyable and interesting dip into the divergent worlds of baduk and organized crime, with thrilling action scenes and a little comic relief from the mob boss’s henchman (Park Won-sang) to round it out.
Producer: Joe Hyun-woo (조현우), Lee Kyung-hwan (이경환)
Cinematography: Ha Kyung-ho (하경호)
Art Director: Oh Heung-suk (오흥석)
Editor: Um Jin-hwa (엄진화)
Sound: Chang Chul-ho (장철호)
Music: Roh Hyung-woo (노형우)
Production Company: Shine Pictures
Our Sunhi (우리 순희)
Directed by Hong Sang-soo (홍상수), 2013.
Cast: Jung Yu-mi (정유미), Lee Sun-kyun (이선균), Kim Sang-joong (김상중), Jung Jae-young (정재영)
Running time: 88 min. Drama, Comedy.
Locarno International Film Festival International Competition 2013 – Best Director
Sunhi (Jung Yu-mi) seeks out a former professor (Kim Sang-joon) for a recommendation letter to study abroad. She is displeased with the results and returns to campus to confront him, running into an ex-boyfriend (Lee Sun-kyun) and an older classmate (Jung Jae-young) along the way. It turns out that all three men want to date Sunhi, comically revealed through the men’s conversations with one another, never realizing that they are all speaking about the same woman. Professor Dong-hyun, ex Mun-su, and former classmate Jae-hak all attempt to discern what’s best for Sunhi through their befuddled attempts at analyzing her character. Our Sunhi is based around a series of conversations repeated over and over, each varying slightly to amusing effect. Director Hong Sang-soo is one Korea’s top filmmakers, and his work continually delights audiences at film festivals worldwide, and this year Our Sunhi took the Silver Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. Our Sunhi is a comedic and original study of the human character, set against the backdrop of Seoul’d seedier bars and cafés. Those interested in Hong’s work should also check out Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, which also screened at BIFF to high praise.
Producer: Kim Kyung-hee (김경희)
Screenwriter: Hong Sang-soo (홍상수)
Cinematography: Park Hong-yeol (박홍열)
Editor: Hahm Sung-won (함성원)
Music: Jeong Yong-jin (정용진)
Production Company: Jeonwonsa Film Co.
10 Minutes (10분)
Directed by Lee Yong-sung, 2013.
Cast: Baek Jong-hwan (백종환), Kim Jong-goo (김종구), Jung Hee-tae (정희태), Lee See-won (이시원)
BIFF KNN Movie Award (Audience Award) and FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Award
10 Minutes is a story about one man’s struggles in a contemporary Korean corporate society. In a country where long days and heavy workloads are the norm, giving up on one’s dream to join the workforce for the sake of steady paycheck is a difficult but common choice, and one that Ho-chan (Baek Jong-hwan) must make. Working part-time at in the media department of a government agency, Ho-chan soon earns a guaranteed promotion to full-time work. As the only breadwinner for his bill-dodging family, Ho-chan leaves behind his dream of becoming a producer for this job opportunity, only to find himself passed over at the last-minute, his position being given to the under-qualified Eun-hye (Lee See-won). Cleanly and competently shot, with writing that gets under your skin as you watch Ho-chan struggle through his days with his increasingly bitter and petty office mates. Will Ho-chan remain in this toxic work environment for the questionable security it provides or return to chasing a potentially impossible dream? 10 Minutes is a film that leaves the viewer to wonder how it all worked out in the end. Lee Yong-seung’s 10 Minutes received the KNN and FIPRESCI Prizes at this year’s BIFF.
Producer: Kim Ki-chul (김기철)
Screenwriter: Kim Hye-min (김혜민)
Cinematography: Sung Seung-taek (성승택)
Editor: Kim Woo-il (김우일)
Sound: Lee Ji-su (이지수)
Production Company: Tiger Cinema
Cold Eyes (감시자들)
Directed by Kim Byung-seo (김병서) and Cho Ui-seok (조의석), 2013.
Cast: Han Hyo-joo (한효주), Seol Kyung-gu (설경구), Jung Woo-sung (정우성)
Running time: 118 min. Crime, thriller.
It would be remiss to write about hot upcoming films without including at least one blockbuster. Cold Eyes is the Korean adaptation of the 2007 Hong Kong film Eye in the Sk and it’s a slick and intelligent crime thriller with twists and turns fast and frequent. Yoon –joo (Han Hyo-joo) is a special agent who has recently joined an elite government special ops team. Hired for her astute observations and photographic memory, Yoon-joo joins a quirky cast of equally intelligent and talented agents led by the comically eccentric Chief Hwang (Seol Kyung-gu), who code-named his new recruit ‘Piglet’. Together, the team must track a crew of organized robbers who have been stealing from high-profile banks and businesses and leaving little trace. Piecing together the few clues that they’ve dug up, Hwang, Yoon-joo and the others find themselves chasing the elusive, ruthless criminal known only as ‘The Shadow’. Watching over Seoul and his henchmen from the rooftops, The Shadow kills anyone who gets in his way. The result is a fast-paced cop-and-robber drama with high-speed car chases, action-packed fight scenes, and forensic puzzles that riddle and delight. Not merely a remake, Cold Eyes is a cool, and entertaining movie that’ll leave the viewer thinking long after the final reel.
Producer: Eugene Lee (이유진)
Screenwriter: Cho Ui-seok (조의석)
Cinematography: Kim Byung-seo (김병서), Yeo Kyung-bo (여경보)
Art Director: Cho Hwa-sung (Hwa-sung CHO 조화성)
Editor: Sin Min-kyung (신민경)
Sound: Kang Hye-young (강혜영), Ko Kwang-hyun (고광현)
Music: Dalpalan (달파란), Jang Young-gyu (장영규)
Production Company: Zip Cinema
Which Korean film caught your eye this year? Any favourites that you recommend or hope to see soon?